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Archive for July, 2009

Does "Judson Laipply" Ring A Bell?

Does 'Judson Laipply' Ring a Bell?

Are you sure?  Because chances are, you’ve spent six minutes or so staring at him sometime during the past three years…  Admittedly, you were kind of furtheraway from him and the lighting was bad but he was right there in the spotlight…

His name is Judson Laipply.  You can follow him @judsonlaipply  Does that help?

Okay, he’s a motivational speaker.  Which is probably more confusing than helpful; how can you willingly spent six minutes with a motivational speaker and not remember it?

He’s got a book, advertised here.  This site describes Judson (or ‘Jud’) as a “charismatic, insightful, and humorous personality…an Inspirational Comedian™”

This is how you know Judson Laipply, Inspirational Comedian™: he created and regularly performs “The Evolution of Dance” at the close of his live appearances.  In April of 2006, he posted a video of one of his performances on a video sharing site that was then barely one year old.  Today, that YouTube clip–in all it’s stationary camera, lo-fi non-glorious production value–stands as the most popular internet video of all time.  It’s been viewed 123,587,836 times on YouTube alone (as of 6:35 this morning) and factoring in postings on other web sharing sites, the total views are estimated to be greater than 150 million.  Further, given the nature of the clip, a high percentage of those views involved groups of people–parents showing their kids or coworkers showing groups of coworkers.

Jud’s been featured on all sorts of television shows and speaks regularly around the country, traveling from his home in Cleveland.  In fact, right now he’s on a cruise ship, plying Alaska’s inland waterway.  This clip’s runaway success has certainly boosted attendance at his speaking engagements and he’s certainly smiling in every last image you find of him.  As he should be–he’s motivational after all.

But what does it say when the highest achievement on YouTube video brings with it largely anonymous fame?

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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Back in the mid-70’s, I used to ride the bus to junior high with a kid called “Tiger” Jackson.  Actually, none of us called him “Tiger” but apparently someone in his family did and he liked the sound of that a whole lot better than “Bill Jr.”  Tiger was never particularly popular but he was always the first to have any comedy record–George Carlin, Steve Martin, The National Lampoon Troupe–and somehow, the mere act of owning and sharing that material lent him a consideration he wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.

I hadn’t thought about Tiger in three decades but yesterday we had a long discussion about social networks with a client that is getting very active in that space and facing the challenges every corporation does as they make the foray into the less-charted world of earned media.  As we explained the “Hey Everybody!” nature of Facebook and the “Hey anybody!” nature of Twitter to a curious if bemused seventy-year old, the question of “But…why?” came up again and again.  “Why do people spend so much time on these networks?”  “Why do they stop what they’re doing to write about it?”  “Why do they think anyone would care?”

We try to answer these queries with intellectual theses about the need for connection in a socially-isolating world where people bowl alone…  We wax philosophical on how technology empowers a cognitive expansion of our collective Dunbar numbers…  But at it’s heart, this need to broadcast what we’re doing, what we think, or what we have found to an unseen audience that includes friends, nodding acquaintances and a considerable amount of total strangers, bears more than a trace of narcissism.  “Look at me!  Follow my links!  Enjoy this comedy brought to you…by me!

Picture 2I type this fully aware that this insight indicts me and my social network habits perhaps most of all.  I write this blog most weekdays, creating lessons on marketing for…well, for whomever stumbles across them.  But I want people to stumble across them so I send out links to these posts over Twitter and LinkedIn.  Every morning during my commute, I try to find some topical story to inspire a one-liner for my Facebook status update.  I tell myself that I do these things because I need firsthand knowledge of social networking or that writing about contemporary advertising forces me to develop an intellectual discipline during these rapidly-evolving times.  And all of that is true.

But that hardly explains why I check my blog stats everyday to see how many people read the post.  Or why I secretly thrill when a friend on Facebook ‘likes my status’ or someone re-tweets a link.  Or why so many people on twitter spend hours each day, forwarding links like a modern day Tiger Jackson.  All of that springs directly from narcissism; a narcissism every client wading into the waters of social networking with hopes of spreading their messages would be well advised to keep in the forefront of their minds.  As an advertiser in social media, your wants and needs will always fall a distant second to your audience, unless you find a way to align your needs with theirs.  If that seems unthinkable, just read the first few paragraphs of this MobileInsider post by Steve Smith.  As he winds up for his pitch against ill-considered mobile phone apps, he says this: “For the benefit of those consumer brands that weren’t listening the first few hundred times this has been said, consumers do not wake up in the morning thanking the lord they live in a country where they get to worship your brand and see life through its narrow self-serving lens. That only happens in the retro-fantasies of Don Draper and the households of top executives at many of these major brands.”  Ouch.

Adjusting to the foundational narcissism that fuels social networks not only presents a real challenge, but a direct juxtaposition to the necessary narcissism of every corporate marketer.  Which is why these are, and will continue to be, very interesting times…

Of course, if you feel differently, I welcome your comments.  Even if you think my thinking is way off-base, the narcissist in me will take comfort knowing you responded.  Bless you.

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Marketing leaders spend a great deal of time worrying about the changing media landscape these days, and an article on MediaPost by Gavin O’Malley this morning will only further their agita.  According to a Princeton Survey Research study, 90% of young adults use video-sharing sites.  Well, no kidding.  The only reason that figure is not 100% is that broadband has yet to penetrate the entire country.

One of the marketing leaders’ principal responses to these changes is their insistence on renaming television production as “content” production.  In their minds, “content” or “video assets” can be endlessly re-purposed with different edits of different lengths for different platforms beyond merely television.

That is good planning, even if it is nothing particularly new.  Candidly, framing a shoot as “content production” helps agencies sell something that every creative on a shoot always wants:  options and additional scenes.  Production experience will quickly teach you to get alternate takes, particularly alternate endings.  With so much of a commercial’s impact and engagement dependent on the actors’ performance, the cost of getting options on set is relatively low.  If you experiment a bit, the actor might deliver a different and better performance than you planned- -which explains roughly 75% of creatives’ bristling at dogmatic pre-testing.  An animatic is but the palest imitation of fully produced film with human performances.

Viral?  Or TV Commercial?

Viral? Or TV Commercial?

Consider the videos that have clogged your inbox over the years: Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”, the non-sanctioned VW “Terrorist”, and arguably the granddaddy of all internet virals: John West Salmon’s  “Bear”.  People forward clips like these to their friends and family because they’re entertaining, surprising and fun.  And yet, every one of these began as a television commercial, albeit an outstanding television commercial.  These may have also worked in a longer format, but thirty or sixty seconds often proves ideal for their impact.  And our attention spans.  Why?  Because we have spent decades absorbing commercial messages at these lengths; we have been conditioned to expect these clips in these concise formats.

All of which means that the changing media landscape will not suddenly render the way we have learned to tell efficiently-structured stories as meaningless.  We must still engage consumers with worthwhile messages presented in a rewarding fashion.  Technology will continue to change, but story endures.

So yes, the marketing landscape is evolving and will continue to evolve.  Change will continue to be a constant.  And so creativity must adapt to embrace and leverage new platforms but never at the cost of classic storytelling.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 1Guest Blogger: Ross Buchanan

The Lincolnesque Ross Buchanan has been writing and creative directing for over two decades in Minneapolis and Chicago at shops big and small, from traditional to design to digital.  At Campbell Mithun, Ogilvy, JWT, MC Brown, Bagby and his currently freelance gig at Tribal DDB, his thoughtful and comprehensive approach to problem solving and continuing self-education about every aspect of our constantly changing business lend his work a decidedly pointed relevance and impact.  Of course, this flexibility can also generate some internal cognitive dissonance, like when he simultaneously juggled work for one client serving the poor and another selling luxury timepieces.  Ross’ creativity extends far beyond copy to the carpentry and wiring required by his ongoing, six year restoration of the vintage prairie-style home he enjoys with his wife and two daughters.  In an industry of far-flung creative talents, Ross is particularly rangy.  And a damn fine fellow to boot.

Last Friday Dennis introduced you to “The Wicked Sick Project,” the brainchild of two creatives from George Patterson/Y&R in Australia.  Hopefully you carved out four minutes and change from your busy day to view this simple reminder that creativity does, indeed, work.  For those of you who missed this “Rad to the Power of Sick” effort, you have homework and can view your assignment here

Lost in the sheer entertainment of the piece is the motive for the exercise.  These two guys probably wouldn’t have made this video unless they felt like racehorses put in a pen.  They are emblematic of creatives everywhere who feel hamstrung by client constraints.  Sure, such constraints are an occupational hazard to anyone who works on the agency side of the business.  However, the current recession intensified these constraints as clients are now extremely reluctant to put a foot wrong.  In my freelance travels, I find more and more of my peers struggling to produce engaging work for increasingly safety-minded clients. 

If anything is to be learned from “The Wicked Sick Project” it is that any client who still has the financial wherewithal to advertise in any media should make the most of it, not the least.

“The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign for Dos Equis beer is a fine example of a brand doing the former, not the latter. My guess is the folks who create their advertising are a having a pretty good time, too.  How could they not with copy like, “He’s a lover, not a fighter.  But he’s also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas”?  One TV spot features a scene of our hero as he runs laughing through the woods clutching a red fox.  In the distance, hunters on horseback with their hounds are in hot pursuit.  Hilarious.  And memorable.  Meanwhile, the rest of the category is mired in a recitation of attributes and ingredients.  The big domestics are having a tug o’ war between “triple hops brewed” and “drinkability” they actually expect us to watch.  The result?  Dos Equis sales are up.  Way up.  Double-digits up.  AdAge.com reported that, through mid-June, a period when imported beer sales dropped 11%, sales of Dos Equis rose more than 17%, moving the brand into eighth place among imports. “There’s never really been an import brand that’s been built so clearly through advertising,” said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights.  Hmmm, could it be that “Rad to the Power of Sick” levels of creativity work beyond tired BMX bikes?

Of course, some brands still insist on playing it safe.  But is safe really all that safe these days?  Slashing advertising spending erodes brand equity.  Not being interesting to people erodes brand equity.   And brand equity is often all the packaged good manufacturers like the Procters, Krafts and Quakers of the world have to offer.  They can farm out manufacturing, but they can’t farm out marketing their brands (although some have tried with those hideous “Brand Power” commercials).  In the end, much like the US healthcare conundrum, there is a big opportunity cost to doing nothing or doing something poorly: the brand can erode to the point of irrelevance.   Right now, the value of the brand is the only thing preventing a switch to private label. “Hey Kraft, see that red dot glowing on your forehead?  Private label holds the gun and has an extremely itchy trigger finger.” 

Since there is no longer true safety to be had, the safety-minded may as well go big or go home.  Toward that end, an old boss of mine used to remind his charges of what he called the Three S’s. “Simplify, surprise and sell,” he used to say, “Not ‘simplify, sedate and sell’ or ‘simplify suck and sell.’”

In other words, be Rad to the Power of Sick. 

By Ross Buchanan, Freelance CD/CW

BTW—that old boss was Dennis Ryan.

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The "O" Stands for "Obvious"     

The “O” Stands for “Obvious”

Last week, the online market research people at Harris Interactive released their latest findings in a pdf titled “LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll.”   In findings that will come as a surprise to no one who has ever spent more than ten seconds on the Yahoo! home page, consumers find many aspect of the burgeoning world of internet advertising frustrating.  They resent expanding banners, page takeovers, and video windows without the option to close or skip.  And now the Harris Interactive people have the quantitative results to prove it.

But this is far from news.  Bad is bad, whether it’s bad television, bad product design, or bad recipes for zucchini.  Advertising is no different: to really engage people, it must prove useful or interesting or surprising.  Generally speaking, people recoil at obnoxious behavior.  And uninvited page takeovers qualify as obnoxious behavior.  Too many advertisers believe silly stunts like sending bouncing balls careening from a small space out over the entire home page constitutes innovation, as if unaware that animation has been around since the late 19th century.

Pointlessly interrupting people is rude.  Wasting peoples’ time is rude.  If you are an uninvited drop-in stranger, I’m not gonna open my front door.  However, if you are an uninvited drop-in stranger lugging an inflatable castle and offering free bouncing for the kids, I might open up a bit.  Because that’s a lot of fun.  Marketing works the exact same way, on or off line.

Essentially, this poll confirms a hypothesis most people in marketing should already consider painfully obvious.  It takes great creative wherewithal to escape the bonds of mediocrity, but that’s the goal.  Every day. In every medium.  

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 3By now, you may have seen this incredibly charming video.  Posted on YouTube back in April by ad agency George Patterson Y&R in Melbourne, it’s been making the rounds a lot of late.  Do yourself a favor: carve out four and a half minutes to enjoy “Wicked Sick BMX” and a powerful reminder that creativity builds brands and adds profits.  Enjoy, won’t you?

Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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I’m a big believer in social networking.  Because of that, I also have a healthy understanding of social NOTworking: those hours frittered away chasing random thoughts and digressions by people as addicted to Twitter as those poor sods standing outside to smoke when it’s -20º.

Which may explain my snarkiness as I surfed over to tweetcongress this morning.  Given some recent high-profile political goofs disseminated on twitter–Governor Schwarzenegger’s amateurish knife branding, Governor Palin’s ongoing…Governor Palin-ness–I assumed it would be a vast wasteland of semi-congealed thoughts and shameless political promotion.

And it is, largely.  Just like advertising is largely an uninspired medium of hackneyed insights and tired executions. But amidst the expected chaff, there are fascinating kernels of wheat.  It would be pretty much impossible to hone one’s position on health care down to 140 characters, and few try.  What does seem to work are cogent reactions to particular assertions on the key issues of the day.  Twitter is an of-the-moment, what’s-happening-now device, a play-by-play telestrator for the smart mobile device set.

This candor and intimacy can be bracingly refreshing.  Even comments by those I’d consider on the other side of some issues can provide thought provoking viewpoints that make me stop and reconsider.  The personal nature of tweeting on the pressing issues of the day carries a welcome unrehearsed tone that is deeply human.

And there lies it’s Achilles’ heel.  For any politician working in the bruising, bear-knuckled arena of national politics, Twitter’s ready searchabilty could quickly render such spontaneous in-the-moment thinking into a liability.  Because if there’s any way to turn those 140 characters against the candidate, the opposition will, with relentless ferocity.  And that’s a shame.

We like our politicians human, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s insatiable need for apologies notwithstanding.  But that humanity can quickly lead to vulnerability, which means press secretaries and legal counsels will inevitability step in with their sterilizing filters, crushing candor under their iron, wing tipped heels.

Still, one can always hope for a political embrace of brevity.  The single, greatest politician in American history proves that for the ages with 272 words in his brilliant Gettysburg Address.  The finest minds today would be hard-pressed to match Lincoln’s accomplishment  in searing concision.  It would be enough for me if lawmakers on both sides of the aisle would strive to match it in humanity.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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